It is a measure of just how far along the Jets have come in a rebuilding process that figured to be riddled with mistakes and misfortune. After a game in which they nearly upset the defending Super Bowl champions that included a crushing officiating call that negated a touchdown, the Jets weren’t satisfied with making a game of it against the Patriots.
They were incensed that they didn’t come out of it with a win.
“We had so many expectations of coming in and shocking the world today,” cornerback Mo Claiborne said after a 24-17 loss that ended the Jets’ three-game winning streak. “I knew we were going to come in and fight for every inch, for every blade of grass. It just hurts we didn’t get that win. I feel like a lot of people will understand that we’ll never lay down. We’re going to come out and fight young, but it’s better when you’ve got that win.”
Even against a Patriots team still trying to find its away after a 2-2 start and dealing with key injuries, the Jets played the kind of game that only a team that believes in itself — regardless of the doom-and-gloom expectations coming into the season — is capable of putting forth. And even if three wins in a row against the Dolphins, Jaguars and Browns were refreshingly unexpected for a team in transition, facing the Patriots simply didn’t seem like a fair fight.
Not as far as the Jets were concerned.
“As far as the outside perception, people may be all excited because we hung in there against the champs or we played a good game, we played tough against them,” running back Matt Forte said. “But the mood in this locker room is we actually gave the game away. We should have won that game. Nobody’s happy or excited. There’s no moral victories in football. We’re looking forward to seeing them again down the road, but also building from here on what we’ve done.”
The outcome was in doubt right until the very end — even after the Jets were understandably demoralized when Austin Seferian-Jenkins’ touchdown was taken off the board because a replay review showed he had bobbled the ball on his way into the end zone and didn’t re-establish possession until he was out of bounds. A touchdown there, and the Jets would have been within a field goal at 24-21. Instead, it was ruled a touchback and the Jets came out of what would have been a 75-yard touchdown drive with no points.
(Yet they still fought and got to within one score on Chandler Catanzaro’s 28-yard field goal with 3:40 to play. And there was hope on their final drive until Josh McCown’s fourth-down pass from midfield fell incomplete deep in Patriots’ territory with 20 seconds to play.
“It’s frustrating, because you fight back into a game like that, and to have it go that way on a call is frustrating,” McCown said about the overturned call on Seferian-Jenkins, which wiped out what would have been the quarterback’s third touchdown pass. “But refs are a part of every game, and we can’t point at that and go, ‘Man, that’s the reason.’ There are so many other things we have to do better and that we hold ourselves accountable to, and that’s our standard.”
McCown looked as good as he has at any point in his career in getting the Jets off to a shockingly efficient 14-0 early lead. With a one-yard touchdown pass to Seferian-Jenkins in the first quarter and a beautiful 31-yard scoring throw to Jeremy Kerley in the second, it felt almost too good to be true.
As the Patriots have done time and time — and time — again, they maintained their composure, waited for the opposition to make a mistake or two, and then pounced. This wasn’t the herculean comeback effort required in Super Bowl LI, when the Patriots rallied from a 25-point, third-quarter deficit to beat the Falcons, 34-28, in overtime. But Tom Brady was once again good enough, and the Patriots’ defense resourceful enough to get the win and get back to its rightful spot in first place. McCown made two key mistakes — both interceptions — and the Patriots made the Jets pay both times.
His sideline pass for Richie Anderson was picked off by Malcolm Butler with 35 seconds left in the first half, and Brady responded with a 63-yard touchdown drive in just 26 seconds to tie the game at 14.
McCown’s second interception was converted into a Stephen Gostkowski field goal early in the fourth quarter to give the Patriots a 10-point lead at 24-14.
The Seferian-Jenkins play surely will be the source of intense debate, even if the call was actually correct in terms of the specificity of the rule. You need to be in control of the ball in the end zone, and Seferian-Jenkins bobbled it ever so slightly before he regained full possession out of bounds — but that won’t end the controversy.
Yet Seferian-Jenkins doesn’t dispute the final outcome — of the play or the game.
“I feel like I scored, but at the end of the day, that’s what the ref called,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “I’m going with what the ref said, and I have to have better ball security. I have to make sure I make the necessary corrections so that doesn’t happen again.”
Then again, he believes this won’t be the last chance for the Jets to prove they can be a factor this season, not simply a work in progress.
“We made a mistake,” he said. “At the end of the day, we lost. We can’t go to the playoffs in Week 6.”